Why Every Youth Coach Should Avoid Assigning Positions

Do you know what the youth coaches of Luka Doncic, Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, and LeBron James had in common?

If you looked at the title of the article, you might already know...

They had these elite athletes play all positions as youth. They played the guard and post positions throughout their development.

Youth players should play and get experience with all positions! That's right, every single kid should get the opportunity to play in the post, at the point, and on the perimeter.

As coaches, we often pigeonhole players WAY too early!

Assigning youth players to specific positions (ex: you're a "post player") literally stunts their development as a player. It also limits their opportunities when they get older.

Here is what you will find throughout the article:

  • Why placing youth players in designated positions stunts their development.

  • A video of Kevin Durant early in his NBA career explaining their youth development.

  • Solutions to placing youth players in positions, so you can develop everybody to their max potential.

Why Does Putting Youth Basketball Players in Positions Stunt Their Development?

  • Kids Mature at Different Rates and Pigeonholing Limits their Opportunities

    As a Player Development Coach, I can't tell you how many parents come to me saying...

    "My son or daughter has always played the post. They were pigeonholed early because at the time they were the biggest. But they stopped growing and now they have no perimeter skills, dribbling skills or any confidence out on the perimeter."

    If you can judge at 8 to 14 years old where a player should be positioned when they are a senior in high school, then you have magical powers. Because it's impossible to tell how much a kid will grow, mature, or even what team they'll be on in a few years.

    Why would you limit a child's potential by pigeonholing him at a young age?

  • Post Players Need Ball Handling Skills

    To develop your post players, they need ball handling skills. Your post players can't develop ball handling skills if you have them run straight to the block on every possession. Your bigs need experience dribbling, passing, shooting, and catching the ball on the perimeter.

    The game of basketball is changing. In today's game, most high school and college offenses have interchangeable positions, use the dribble and ball screens more frequently, have bigs shooting outside, and spread things out. Players lacking the ball handling and shooting skills are often left behind.

    Just look at the big men in the NBA -- Luka Doncic, Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis, and Kevin Durant all have something in common. All of these big men have GUARD skills. Where would they be if they didn't have the opportunity to play all positions and develop these skills at a young age?

  • Guards Need Big Man Skills

    Guards need to learn how to rebound, defend in the post, use their footwork, finish inside, and so on. And if you have a guard that can post up, that makes them even more valuable. These skills will make them more valuable, and you just never know which guard will grow up when they mature.

  • Everybody Needs Point Guard Skills

    The most challenging position on the floor is the point guard position. As a result, it's the best position for development. No matter what position you play, everyone benefits by developing point guard skills.

    Every coach's dream is to have five players on the floor with point guard skills. If this is a good thing, shouldn't we develop our youth players with this goal in mind?

    Give other players a chance to play the point guard position and blossom.

A Video With Kevin Durant Explaining His Youth Development

Here is a video of Kevin Durant talking about his youth development:

As you see in this video, thanks to his Godfather's wise advice, Kevin Durant now thrives as a 6'10 positionless player.

Now, think of the Kevin Durant highlights...

Often, you will see him taking the taller, slower players guarding him out to the perimeter and performing a dribble move to explode by the defender.

You also see him taking smaller opponents into the post and shooting over them for an easy basket.

You also see him passing out of double teams with great precision.

This undoubtedly resulted from his youth basketball experience.

It really begs the question. Would all of these great players developed into the best players in the world if they had been stuck under the basket as a post player because they were poor ball handlers or because they were tall?

What Is The Solution to Placing Youth Players In Positions?

There are lot of ways to solve the problem. Here are just a few ideas for you to consider:

  • Let them play all of the positions or use an interchangeable offense.

    When it comes to an offense, you have a couple options. If your offense requires specific positions (ex: 3 out 2 in motion), you can let kids play both positions and switch things around. Let the small kids play underneath the basket. Let the big kids play on the perimeter.

    Another solution is to run an offense with interchangeable positions. A good example and an offense we really like is the Open Post Motion Offense. In this offense, players are constantly moving to different areas of the floor and all players are touching the ball. When appropriate, you can teach post ups and post moves within the offense following a basket cut.

  • Let a different player bring the ball up the floor every 3 to 5 minutes.

    If you have a problem doing this, you can also schedule "weaker" opponents and let your weak ball handlers play point guard for the game.

  • Include tons of skill drills in practice.

    For beginners, one of our favorite things to include in practices are game-based drills with defenders (or small-sided games). These are great because everybody has to handle the ball, shoot, and finish in game-like situations.

    Here is an article that explains this concept in more depth and it also has some great sample drills!

    The Missing Link To Player Development.

    Even though we advise to have everybody handle the ball during games, this is a great alternative to use during practice if you can't bring yourself to let everybody handle the ball during games.

  • Preseason Meeting and Education of Parents.

    Let the parents know that you are not coaching to win. You are coaching to improve the players over the long run. You will be focusing on the process, not the result. Everybody will handle the ball. Everybody will play in the post.

    The best saying I heard in youth basketball was... "You coach to develop players. Players play to win."

    To stress the importance, reference this article in addition to verbally telling them!

  • Create your own youth leagues or youth camps.

    When Mike Zavada won over 100 games in 5 years and 3 district titles as a head varsity coach in Miami, he saw the many issues with youth basketball as he was trying to maintain the strength of the program by working with the younger players.

    Mike noticed many of 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders play in leagues that allow zone defenses, junk defenses, full court presses, and other tactics that work because youth players' lack of coordination, strength, and skill level due to their age to use effective methods to be successful against these tactics. You can read more about this topic at What Defense Should You Teach Youth Players (Zone, Man, Press)??

    Instead of placing these kids in these situations which would stunt the development of youth players, Mike started to have a Sunday camp for youth players. By using lots of skill drills, 1v1, 2v2, 3v3, and structured scrimmaging, he started to notice a big improvement in the skill level of his youth program. When these players started playing for teams in the 5th and 6th grade, he noticed that these players were much more prepared compared to players who had been playing in these leagues prior to 5th and 6th grade.

Keep The End In Mind - Set Your Players Up For Their Best Future

As a result of this approach, you may lose a few extra games that you wouldn't have lost at the youth level...

But you'll start to notice something pretty special happening to these kids as they reach the end of their middle school years and their high school years.

You'll start to compete against and beat teams that you thought you would never beat. You'll also see some of your players move on to be successful players at the high school and college level because of the foundation that you laid.

Instead of having 1 or 2 guys that handle pressure, now you have 5 on the court at all times. Instead of having 1 good post player, you now have 5 who can take advantage of mismatches at any time.

It's not where you start that matters, it's where you end up.

We hope this article helped shine some light on this topic. And who knows, maybe you'll help develop the next Durant, Giannis, or Luka!

Please share your thoughts and opinions below!


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